Jenny Hval – ‘Innocence is Kinky’

Hannah offers a look at Norwegian-artist Jenny Hval’s latest record, ‘Innocence is Kinky’, out now on Rune Grammofon. Catch Jenny on her first US tour this fall.

Hannah Cook

6
out of 10

Jenny Hval
Innocence is Kinky
May 14th, 2013
Rune Grammofon

And I thought Coco Rosie was weird.

-Heavy sigh-

Here we go.

There are a few ways to tackle Norwegian artist Jenny Hval’s latest album Innocence is Kinky. You could analyze it, delving into all the undertones—and then the more transparent elements—of femininity, sexuality, gender construction and poetic notions, using big words and referencing literary and intellectual heads and their reasoning (see: Tiny Mix Tapes’ review of the album). Although this would be the most mature and perhaps interesting route, unfortunately not all of us (i.e. me) studied women’s gender studies in college (although I did take the intro course) and know what half (okay, more than half) of that stuff means. So it’s best not to go there. We all know how mean the Internet can be when you try to talk about something you don’t know much about, especially for such a controversial subject.

There’s always the opposite option of being a 14-year-old boy about it, saying things like “omg lol I kinda have a boner now” or “WTF is Jenny talking about–smoke rings from her lady parts? Like that can even happen. Or wait…can it…?” (From the album title track.) And while that manner definitely has its perks (I’ve never been a 14-year-old boy before–could be fun) it doesn’t actually get us to the point: is the album good or bad and why (subjectively speaking–don’t freak out). It’s also just sort of stupid.

Describing the album is always a safe route, but then you risk not doing the album justice. The English language is not versatile enough to wholly express art. Innocence is Kinky is a tough one to describe, too, because there’s a lot of bizarre things happening (there I go, describing).  It is the most appealing way to me, though, because I don’t think I have tough enough skin to keep the haters on the Internet out of my head should I bravely decide to make a “scholarly” opinion about why Jenny Hval is being so weird on this album.
So, yeah, Hval pushes some boundaries on Innocence is Kinky. Nothing about the album is conventional but I reckon you could have figured that out just based on its name.

The album opens with the title track, what must be something of an ode to female masturbation, as Hval whispers right away over a deep, buzzing synth “That night, I watched people f***ing on my computer. Nobody can see me looking anyway.” It goes on in that same sort of way. The music video is equally as shocking: it begins with a woman on a casual run, but after focusing in on her fixated stare, it shoots to her touching herself in a pond, shaving her bits, and–sexually frustrated–tugging at her flesh-colored latex dress, occasionally zooming in on the details of her creasing, bumpy skin

All of that sexual healing aside, Hval is a poet—the kind that doesn’t make much sense unless you’ve got time to analyze. We hear it in songs like “Give Me That Sound,” in which Hvalperforms spoken word over noises that must have come from the ghost of Karlheinz Stockhausen. “I have a mouth and it opens and it continues to open” and so on and so forth and though we may not know what the heck she’s talking about, we know it’s dactylic and that she probably thinks about things that aren’t easy to think about. “Is There Anything On Me That Doesn’t Speak?” is the same way in its beginning. They’re tough listens—worthy of a snapping applause from a dimly lit room of nodding, black beret wearing, artsy-fartsy weirdos (who probably don’t know what she’s talking about either but they’ll pretend, at least for politeness’ sake).

But there is beauty rooted in all of these idiosyncrasies. It’s tough to believe, but Hval isn’t doing this purely for the shock value; it’s her art and she uses her voice to prove it. In album closer “The Seer,” for example, her child-like crooning swells and shrinks in a swirl of steady synth. It’s a bit like yodeling as she quivers along a wide pitch spectrum. Moments like that that save the album from being completely un-relatable.

Nevertheless, the truth is this album is intimidating to me. I don’t feel nearly sexy enough to listen to it, and no one wants to feel not sexy enough. It’s not that it’s bad (that’s why it’s getting the score it is), I just don’t “get it.” And I could spend the rest of my life trying to or the album can remain stowed away on my playlist without a sound. In this moment, I choose cowardice.

Regardless, Jenny has her first ever US tour dates this fall and I’m sure it will be a party of sorts.